Improve your mental wellbeing
Anxiety and depression affect one fifth of women – that’s 21.5 per cent, compared with 16.5 per cent of men. The Mental Health Foundation reports women are twice as likely to suffer from an anxiety disorder, while a Government survey found that one in five women has mental health problems.
It’s not hard to find reasons why stress and anxiety and other mental health issues are on the rise. We’re working longer hours than ever, and one in three of us report feeling ‘overwhelmed’ by technology, answering emails at all hours. But there are also several less obvious factors that are impacting women’s mental wellbeing in particular.
The latest figures show that among 25- to 54-year-olds, women are 1.4 times more likely than male colleagues to suffer from work-related stress, anxiety and depression. One major factor is that women are more prone to ‘role stress’, says Prof Gail Kinman, occupational psychologist at the University of Bedfordshire. ‘The conflict of being physically at work, but mentally with your family, and vice versa. It’s still “mum” who gets called by the school when a child is unwell,’ she says. Women can also be more vulnerable to the effects of ‘surface acting’ – the disconnect between an outward work persona, and how you really feel. ‘It’s still not as acceptable for women to express feelings at work as it is for men,’ adds Kinman. ‘A woman showing frustration or anger is more likely to be seen as out of control than a man.’ And a new review of studies found that the pressure of maintaining a work persona, or surface acting, increases the risk of burnout.
The self-care solution: The antidote to surface acting is ‘deep acting’. Research shows that holding in mind a mental image of people who benefit from your work can help energise and renew your motivation, helping you to combat stress and preventing you from burnout. ‘When day-to-day stress feels overwhelming, reconnecting with your values and what you genuinely care about, then thinking how you can express that in your work can be very restorative,’ says Kinman.
The third shift
Many women go home from work to start the ‘second shift’ of domestic duties, but what’s undermining our wellbeing further is that we’re now taking on a ‘third shift’. ‘The third shift is about managing our online lives, but also monitoring the digital footprint of our children,’ says Kinman. A study from the University of Michigan has found that it’s women who mainly take on the third shift.
Sharing photos and updates online is a great way of keeping people involved in your daily life but, according to a 2017 report from Ofcom, many of us have profiles on at least six apps or social media platforms. ‘The “third shift” can be taken up with managing those accounts, and the more you have, the more stressful and time consuming it is,’ says Kinman.
The self-care solution: Disabling push notifications, or at least turning off the sound can help. ‘It’s hard to resist the lure of a new notification on your phone – it’s been described as a wrapped present you want to open,’ says Kinman. And easy as it is to pick up your phone when you’re waiting for the kettle to boil, there is more therapeutic benefit in simply letting your mind wander – short bursts of such ‘involuntary attention’ are thought to give the brain a chance to refresh.
Winding down with wine
‘Wine o’clock’ is the modern woman’s reward for juggling the demands of a busy day. According to a 2015 study, women see drinking as a way of capturing the ‘carefree’ feeling of their youth. Indeed, 80 per cent of women now say they drink on a regular basis. Workplace stress and anxiety also plays a part. The higher up we get in the workplace, the more likely we are to drink regularly – 34 per cent of female managerial and professional workers reported consuming alcohol to hazardous levels at least once in the last week.
But it’s a misconception that alcohol helps with stress relief. Rather than supporting our mental wellbeing, it’s far more likely to undermine it. Women’s physiological make-up means we are less efficient at processing acetaldehyde, the toxic by-product of alcohol. And female drinkers are at higher risk than men of mental health issues such as depression.
The self-care solution: ‘I made the decision never to drink to change my emotions,’ says Rosamund Dean, author of Mindful Drinking: How Cutting Down Can Change Your Life. ‘Rather than numbing stressed emotions, I know I need to process them. I’ll talk them through with a friend or my partner, then have an early night. I save alcohol for happy occasions, – a couple of glasses of wine when I’m out for dinner, or glass of fizz at a birthday party. It’s when you become reliant on it to change your emotional state that problems start.’
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